I recently attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me. To process my trip, I periodically share vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

“Would you be from Oakland, if you could?” he asked. There was silence for a moment before she answered.

“Oakland is hella dirty.”

I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation in the seat behind me on the train. Their voices suggested they were teenagers, and after a (hopefully inconspicuous) glance behind me, I decided they were dating. The lyrics pouring from the headphones they were sharing sounded metallic and harsh despite being unintelligible from where I sat.

Until this moment, their conversation and the emphatic beat of their music had been bothering me. But now I forced myself to soften a little. I looked out the window to evaluate her statement.

There was no question that we were speeding over a rough part of town. Graffiti covered most available surfaces, and industrial buildings spread like a concrete disease through the landscape. Still, I thought, with the bay in the distance and the sun-bleached streets, there was a real beauty to this outer edge of Oakland. Maybe you had to be from out of town to think so.

The young couple behind me left the train together at the next station, and I found to my surprise that I missed their chatter. What a sweet date for two kids with no car and not much money: riding the BART together and listening to music. I reminisced about the early days of my relationship with Mike as the train raced ahead awhile longer. The loudspeaker finally pulled me back to the present by announcing my stop and I disembarked.

I was getting used to feeling alone and out of place on this trip across the country, but stepping out of the station onto an Oakland street felt like stepping out into a dream. The houses were similar but different than the houses I was used to. The driveways were similar but different. The storefronts were similar but different. The people were similar but different.

I was standing in an urban neighborhood like I had many times before, but it was as if some shrewd and knavish sprite had twisted everything a half-inch off kilter. I didn’t mind — I quite like the feeling of getting used to a new space.

I walked down the sidewalk in the furious sunshine — where had all this sun suddenly come from? the trip thus far had been downright chilly — and enjoyed the pins and needles of newness.

A man rode past me on a bike leading a dog the size of a horse.

I passed a church and was startled as singing burst forth from its open windows. Pigeons standing nearby were startled too and burst into flight.

A man apologized from the open window of an old Volkswagen van for blocking the sidewalk.

A girl with a pretty scarf and a cute pair of flats locked her front door and walked off down the sidewalk.

I quietly stored up each new stimulus like slides in a slidebox. I would pull them out and examine them more carefully later, perhaps under a microscope — or perhaps in an essay surrounded by cookie dough bars. Whichever.

Before long I reached my destination: homeroom, a whimsical little restaurant devoted to my favorite food, macaroni and cheese. This was a pilgrimage of sorts, since I’d been determined to visit the restaurant ever since I heard of its opening in 2010. Now here I was, being seated at a little sun-drenched table next to its flung-open glass doors. I ordered some housemade limeade and a big dish of trailer mac (macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and potato chips) and settled in to jot down some slides — er, memories — for later.

As I sat and collected the flavors and sights around me, I considered the question from the boy on the train: “Would you be from Oakland, if you could?”

I think maybe so.

. . .

Little bits of happiness add up to joyful memories. These Brown Butter Cookie Dough Pretzel Bars were some little bits of happiness I contributed to a Sunday school Christmas party recently. They combine some of my favorite flavors — buttery shortbread, chocolate chip cookie dough, salty pretzels, and a chocolate drizzle just for fun. I decided they’d be easier to eat with half the cookie dough pictured here, so I cut it down in the recipe below, but feel free to make them either way.

And either way, send one or two my way. They’ve all been devoured over here and I kind of miss them.

Brown Butter Cookie Dough Pretzel Bars

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: about 30 squares

If you love sneaking bites of cookie dough, you’ll love these bars! Made with eggless cookie dough for safety, these bars combine some fantastic flavors: buttery shortbread, chocolate chip cookie dough, salty pretzels, and a drizzle of melted chocolate for good measure. I’ve adjusted the amount of cookie dough in the recipe below to make them the perfect finger food, so they’d be a hit at any party!

Crust Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Cookie Dough Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like to use mini chips)
a few tablespoons water (as needed)

Other Ingredients:
about 30 pretzels
1/2 cup chocolate chips for assembly

Note: I decided after making these bars that the cookie dough needed to be half as high to make them easier to eat and to better balance the flavors, so I’ve cut it in half in this recipe. That means your bars will only be half as high as in the photos. If you’d rather them be just like the photos, just double the cookie dough ingredients (not the crust or other ingredients).

Brown the butter for the cookie dough: Put the 1/2 cup of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Melt it and heat until the butter begins to brown. Begin swirling so it will cook evenly. Brown it to a dark amber and then pour it out into a shallow dish. Stick this in the freezer to firm up a bit. When firm, set it out to soften slightly while you prepare your crust.

Make your crust: Preheat your oven to 350Β°F. Prepare a 9-inch square baking dish with a foil sling. To do this, tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan after baking and cooling. Grease the sling with cooking spray or butter and flour.

In a big bowl using a pastry cutter (or in the bowl of a food processor), cut the cold butter into the flour and confectioners’ sugar. Press this mixture into your prepared pan using the bottom of a glass or something similar. Bake 20 minutes or until light brown. Let cool on wire rack.

Make your cookie dough: While the crust cools, in a medium bowl, cream together the softened brown butter and sugar. Add the cream cheese and whip the mixture until fluffy. Stir in the flour, salt, vanilla and chocolate chips. Add the water one tablespoon at a time stirring between each, until the dough reaches a consistency just a touch thinner than regular cookie dough (such that it will be thick but spreadable).

When your crust is completely cool, spoon cookie dough in big dollops around it and use an offset spatula to gently level it out into an even layer. Chill this while you prepare your chocolate.

Assemble the bars: Melt chocolate chips according to package instructions in the microwave (usually you heat on half power for a minute and stir, followed by 15 second intervals until the chips are melted, stirring between each heating) and let them cool slightly before pouring the melted chocolate into a plastic zip bag and cutting off the tip of one corner. Drizzle chocolate across the surface of the cookie dough and use this as “glue” to lay your pretzels out in neat rows (working quickly so your chocolate doesn’t harden before you’ve finished laying your pretzels out).

Repeat the chocolate drizzle over the surface of the pretzels. Chill to set the chocolate, then use the ends of the foil sling to pull the bars out of the pan and then slice them to serve. I sliced them into two-pretzel bars for photos, but they’re so rich that one-pretzel squares are the serving size I’d recommend.

65 Comments on Brown Butter Cookie Dough Pretzel Bars

  1. DessertForTwo
    December 30, 2011 at 5:30 am (11 years ago)

    These look so delicious! And I enjoyed your story, as I always do πŸ™‚

  2. Noelle
    December 30, 2011 at 5:58 am (11 years ago)

    I thought the concern with eating cookie dough was a throwback to before eggs were pasteurized. Am I wrong? As someone who’s eaten cookie dough bits from her mixing bowl for years, I’m honestly curious.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 30, 2011 at 6:04 am (11 years ago)

      The risk of contracting salmonella from eggs has decreased greatly through efforts to improve egg safety, but there is still a risk — enough that doctors advise the elderly and pregnant not to eat cookie dough. I wouldn’t tell someone they shouldn’t sneak some cookie dough now and again, but for dishes like this that call for straight-up cookie dough, I always go eggless. No reason to waste the eggs, anyhow!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 30, 2011 at 6:09 am (11 years ago)

      P.S. Not all eggs are pasteurized — most in the grocery store aren’t. Look for pasteurized eggs specifically if you know you’ll be consuming raw egg and yes, you’ll be safer πŸ™‚

  3. Lauren at Keep It Sweet
    December 30, 2011 at 11:36 am (11 years ago)

    I really wish we lived near each other so I could sneak over and eat some of these cookie dough bars! Love getting your Foodbuzz travel stories:-)

  4. Vanessa
    December 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm (11 years ago)

    Um these look lethal. Cookie dough, brown butter, pretzels. All some of my favorite things! Great story Julie!

  5. Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie
    December 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm (11 years ago)

    I am in love with these babies. Love how you used whole pretzels on top. I would be tempted to grind them up int he crust too!

  6. Grubarazzi (@Grubarazzi)
    December 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm (11 years ago)

    I felt like I was lifted to Oakland while reading your essay. Then, I was lifted to heaven looking at your bars. Gorgeous.

  7. Megan
    December 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm (11 years ago)

    Those bars look incredible! If I hadn’t already bought ingredients for some other desserts to make this weekend, I’d definitely be running out for ingredients to make these! Have a very happy new year, Julie!

  8. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe
    December 30, 2011 at 11:15 pm (11 years ago)

    So many lovely things all rolled up into one little treat. Happy new year Julie!

  9. Joanne
    December 31, 2011 at 1:20 am (11 years ago)

    This is such a great story, I often find myself eavesdropping on people on trains or buses…and vacillating between irritation and sort-of love for them. It’s weird. But I get it.

    I would have nothing but love for these bars. Serious, diehard love.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 31, 2011 at 2:04 am (11 years ago)

      “vacillating between irritation and sort-of love for them.”

      LOL — that’s it exactly! Thanks, Joanne πŸ™‚

  10. Susan McKee
    December 31, 2011 at 4:26 am (11 years ago)

    Hello, apparently it isn’t only the eggs that carry E-coli but the flour………..check out the CDC website.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 31, 2011 at 4:43 am (11 years ago)

      Hi Susan, salmonella is actually the issue with uncooked eggs, not e-coli. Uncooked flour isn’t ideal either, but can’t quite get around it here, unfortunately.

  11. Mariam
    December 31, 2011 at 5:14 am (11 years ago)

    I am drooling like a fool over here because of your yummy pictures. I may have to make these sinful treats one of these days. Great, now I’m in a snacky mood. Thanks a lot. πŸ™‚ Love the blog btw. So glad I ran into it.

  12. Deb
    December 31, 2011 at 6:20 am (11 years ago)

    An exceptional post! I very much enjoyed your story. I must admit my mom often made “Trailer Mac” from pantry staples during the lean days before paydays. She made the “white sauce” with margarine, sharp cheddar and whole milk. I never did care for the added hot dogs. But I did like the crumbled potato chip topping!

    The Pretzel Bars are very appealing, a perfect combination of sweet, chocolately and salty. Lovely photos!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm (11 years ago)

      Thanks, Deb! I love your mom’s frugal version of Trailer Mac! Sweet memories πŸ™‚

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 31, 2011 at 2:55 pm (11 years ago)

      Yes, Sam, you’re right that uncooked flour is not perfect either. Guess we’ll never make this treat 100%. Each person has to decide for themselves how they feel about that. Personally, I’ll continue to enjoy it while keepin’ it as safe as possible.

      More info on this for anyone who’d like to explore the risk: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/08/test-hold-for-e-coli-might-not-work-for-flour/ “Nestle put five laboratories to work to find E. coli O157:H7 in flour. It took 30 samples from each of 1,074 lots for a total of 32,220 batches that were all put to the test. One sample for an incidence rate of 0.003 percent returned positive for E. coli O157:H7. That was about one hundred times less than incidence rates for Salmonella found in previous studies.”

  13. Sommer
    December 31, 2011 at 8:59 am (11 years ago)

    Loved your story and I love this dessert. Will make this for my husband first day at work. Again your writing is amazing. I can wait to read more. Have a happy happy new year!

  14. Tina@flourtrader
    December 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm (11 years ago)

    This was a good read. There are some people that travel by themselves without an issue, but I have yet to do it.
    The pretzel bars do look delicious-hard to turn down those flavors-yum! Have a Happy New Year!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm (11 years ago)

      Tina, there were definitely some moments that made me think, “Hm, I probably shouldn’t be here alone,” but it was a valuable experience!

      Thank you! Happy New Year to you too!

  15. Betty Mc Mullan PA
    December 31, 2011 at 4:58 pm (11 years ago)

    BROWN BUTTER COOKIE DOUGH BARS. These look and sound delicious. I would like to make them for my rubber stamping group at Christ time.
    How do I print just the recipe and not all 17 pages.

    Thanks for your consideration and help.

    Betty Mc Mullan PA

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      December 31, 2011 at 5:07 pm (11 years ago)

      Hi Betty! Sorry I don’t have a print link just yet. Until then, here’s what I do: highlight the text of the recipe and copy it. Paste it into a word processing document or even an email and print that.

  16. lisaiscooking
    January 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm (11 years ago)

    I know it’s the new year, and I should be focused on healthy eating, but I’m looking at these cookie bars and wishing I could have them for breakfast! They look great.

  17. Vivian Ruble (Mom)
    January 3, 2012 at 2:51 am (11 years ago)

    These look yummy! People did not use to fear raw eggs. I can understand cation in the elderly, very young or during pregnancy, but for YEARS people ate raw eggs in shakes, etc. (even prescribed for ulcers for years). NO ONE got sick. If sickness occurs now it is due to the condition of our chickens and eggs. Buy organic or from a local farmer and enjoy them raw with no confidence! In cookie dough they add no flavor so I leave them out when making the dough to add to ice cream, etc. but raw eggs really pose no risk. Another lie from the FDA…. CDC, etc.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 3, 2012 at 2:58 am (11 years ago)

      Thanks, Mom. The problem is that plenty of folks use unpasteurized eggs and cannot guarantee their handling, so there’s a slight risk. You’re right that there are things people can do to better their odds!

  18. Mercedes
    January 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm (11 years ago)

    These look ridiculous! In a good way of course!

  19. emma
    January 4, 2012 at 2:05 am (11 years ago)

    These look so yummy! I am gluten free so I’m excited because I think I can make these with gluten free flours and gluten free pretzels. When I make them, I’ll let you know how it goes with the gf products. : )

  20. Kaitlin
    January 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm (11 years ago)

    I LOVED THIS STORY. Your writing is awesome.

    Also, when I saw these bars, they stopped both me and the boy in our tracks. He looked at the screen and said, jaw dropped, “what ARE those?” in the most wonderfully combined tone of intrigue and lust. WANT.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 9, 2012 at 6:08 am (11 years ago)

      Aww, thank you sweet girl! You’re the best. Come on over and I’ll make you (and the boy!) some cookie dough bars πŸ˜‰

  21. Krystle
    January 9, 2012 at 6:05 am (11 years ago)

    made these tonight. woahhhh are they rich!! so amazing. should i keep them in the fridge or can i take them out? i prefer room temperatures as my teeth are super sensitive πŸ™‚ loving this recipe though!!! thank you!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 9, 2012 at 6:07 am (11 years ago)

      Yay! So glad you like them, Krystle! Store them in the fridge because of the butter, but feel free to let them sit out for 30 minutes or so before eating to let them come to room temp. Enjoy!

  22. Brooke (Baking with Basil)
    January 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm (11 years ago)

    I NEED these in my life! Right now!!!! I haven’t had a bite of batter since August.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm (11 years ago)

      That is way too long, girl! Get thee to an eggless cookie dough recipe! πŸ˜‰

  23. Maggie @ Kitchie Coo
    January 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm (11 years ago)

    Hi Julie, so excited to have found your blog! This recipe sounds absolutely amazing. Loved your story about Oakland too…you are a wonderful writer and photographer. Looking forward to reading more!

  24. Becky!
    January 23, 2012 at 2:06 am (11 years ago)

    Oh. My. Goodness. I am so excited to try these — you have no idea. πŸ™‚

    Thanks so much for sharing!!

  25. Kayleigh
    April 29, 2012 at 12:46 am (11 years ago)

    Everything you make looks so good!

  26. Michelle
    June 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm (11 years ago)

    Can I make these in advance?

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      June 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm (11 years ago)

      Yes, definitely (keep in fridge until ready to serve), but I wouldn’t put the pretzels on until just before you serve so they don’t get soggy πŸ™‚

      • Michelle
        June 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm (11 years ago)

        Thanks, that’s what I was thinking, just wanted to check your thoughts since it’s your yummy recipe. I’d like to make them for tomorrow.

  27. Natesjes
    November 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm (11 years ago)

    Let me state these look so delicious, that being said, i hate blogs, i hate reading them theyre always so long and drawn out, and makes my head scream….just get to the point!
    But as i read urs i couldnt stop, i started by scanning the first few lines for the start of the recipe or tips for it, and was sucked in, i couldnt stop reading it! I loved the story, and u told it so well! At the risk of spundy cheesy (which despite being a wife and mother of two, i am or very good at…lol) , it really made me feel something, cozy maybe, soft, i think thats it cozy and soft if that makes sense. And i find myself wanting to sucscribe to ur blog, which is a big compliment id say…lol thanks for the recipe and the story!

  28. Linda
    June 27, 2014 at 11:08 am (9 years ago)

    Just made these and they are delicious! I just wish the crust was thicker because the crust is soooo good!


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